Radio Hed: Start Your Commercial Story in the Middle

Radio-Hed-Logo-2By Jeffrey Hedquist

He stood up and said, “Let me talk to my manager. I’ll see what we can do.”

At that point I just wanted out of there. I knew we were at the wrong car dealer.

Earlier that day I said to myself, “I’ll probably end up going to Fesler’s Auto, but I have to satisfy my curiosity by shopping around first.” Now I realize what a mistake that was.

In crafting commercials often the first words we write tell the listener about the setting, the back story. But we don’t have time in a commercial to provide an extensive background, and it’s not that interesting. Sometimes it’s more effective to throw your audience into the middle of the adventure.

A good story usually pulls us along the protagonist’s journey to overcome struggles in pursuit of a goal. But starting as the conflict begins and ending the spot as the goal is reached, can sometimes seem too formulaic.

Starting in the middle, adding in back story information and then resolving the conflict can be more interesting.

In medias res (Latin for “into the middle of things”) is the literary narrative technique of relating a story from the midpoint, rather than the beginning. You can use that reference to impress your client, or simply use this technique to impress them with results.

Try throwing away the first paragraph you’ve written.

In the commercial story above, here’s a typical first paragraph which had been edited out:

So I walked into the dealership, not knowing what to expect. I met a salesman, took a test drive, then we got down to negotiating on a vehicle. I gave him my final offer and…

This technique can work well when you’re creating a campaign composed of a series of episodes in a continuing story.

Write a really long story, and then break it up into sections. Each section becomes a commercial length episode. You can choose to have a standard intro to each, possibly a brief summary of the last episode at the beginning, or just jump into the story.

Then when you’re staring at the blank screen, knowing you have a great story line, listening to that voice in your head screaming, “Where should I begin?” just start in the middle.

Pick a point in the story that’s dramatic, funny or poignant – something relevant to the listener. It can be dialogue, narrative, description – whatever will hook the audience.

Steps:

Rough out an idea of your story content. What’s the plot?

Choose an interesting (exciting, compelling relevant) point in the story to bring in the listener.

Start writing. Or, start writing at the beginning of the story or scene. Then, toss out everything up to the point where it gets interesting. Don’t reveal where the story is going at this point. This is your audio headline – the hook to catch the listener.

 Reveal what happened before that point in the story by where you take your opening.

Weave the marketing of the advertiser in with the entertainment value of the story.

 Start writing even if you don’t do Step 1.

Don’t get hung up because you don’t know how your commercial story will end. If you start with a strong audio headline, you’ll be inspired to create an interesting story, one you might not have written otherwise.

Since those first few words are so important, practice writing interesting story beginnings, even with no story or client in mind. File them where you can retrieve them easily. Later you can use this collection of opening paragraphs to break writer’s block.

© 1997-2013 Hedquist Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.

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